MSNBC: 45 Minutes on McCain, 'Eerily Similar' to Clinton-Lewinsky

MSNBC was so excited about a Thursday New York Times story with a derogatory look at Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s supposed relationship with a female lobbyist eight years ago, that the network broke into the 7 PM EST re-run of Hardball to read from the Web-posting of the article which Keith Olbermann described as “extraordinary.”

Olbermann insisted the alleged efforts of staffers to “protect” McCain sound “eerily similar” to Clinton-Lewinsky. Later in his 45 minutes of “Breaking News” coverage, Olbermann proposed: “If this doesn’t sound like deja vu all over again, I don’t know what does.”

CNN avoided such extended coverage as its 8 PM EST CNN Election Center stuck to other campaign news, though Anderson Cooper led at 10 PM EST with McCain’s denials about any romance with a lobbyist: “Tonight the McCain campaign is slamming a potentially incendiary story and the New York Times for writing it. Does the timing of the story add up to a hit job? Is the subject, ethics and rumored infidelity, fair game?”

FNC’s Hannity & Colmes began with an exclusive with attorney Bob Bennett, retained by McCain, who denounced the New York Times story as “a smear job.”

At about 7:45 PM EST, Olbermann broke in on MSNBC to announce “Breaking News,” specifically:

We interrupt Hardball to tell you that the New York Times is reporting on its Web site tonight that top advisors to Senator John McCain have, quote, “intervened to protect the candidate from himself,” unquote, to keep a 40-year-old Washington lobbyist named Vicki Iseman away from Senator McCain because, in the words of the Times correspondents, they became quote “convinced the relationship had become romantic.” The Times says both Ms. Iseman and Senator McCain deny there is any kind of romantic relationship.

What exactly the relationship is between the 71-year-old McCain and 40-year-old lobbyist who’s representative of several firms whose business has come before the Senate is unclear at this point, but the Times has broken in onto its Web site with this extraordinary story that reeks of so many in American history the day after Senator McCain won the Wisconsin primary....
Though McCain and Vicki Iseman denied any romantic involvement and the article centered on events eight years ago, over the next 45 minutes Olbermann discussed the story with NBC News reporter Kelly O’Donnell, Newsweek reporter Richard Wolffe, Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter, Pat Buchanan and NBC News political director Chuck Todd. Then, a bit past 8:30 PM EST, Olbermann picked up with his regular Countdown show. But at 9 PM EST, Dan Abrams returned to McCain as his lead item.

Just after 8 PM EST, Olbermann ruminated with Wolffe:
OLBERMANN: The phrase here, “protect the candidate from himself.” “Intervene.” This sounds, this sounds eerily familiar. We harkened back to the efforts from members of President Clinton's staff to try to keep Monica Lewinsky away from him ten years ago or more. Those are eerily similar uses of the language, are they not?

WOLFFE: Yes they are...
The AP reported Wednesday night:
Republican presidential hopeful John McCain issued a statement Wednesday night saying he "will not allow a smear campaign" to distract from his campaign as published reports questioned his relationship with a lobbyist...
An excerpt from the top of “For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk,” the New York Times story by Jim Rutenberg, Marilyn W. Thompson, David D. Kirkpatrick and Stephen Labaton:
WASHINGTON — Early in Senator John McCain’s first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of the lobbyist’s client, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity....
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center